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Climbing Communications

Updated: May 2, 2023

It is not always possible to hear your climbing partner. We want to have a system of communication that does not rely on verbal calls, and when we do use them, have a small set of standard calls that minimises misunderstandings. The goal is to:

  1. Prevent unsafe practices, such as taking your partner off belay when they are still climbing.

  2. Prevent inefficient practices, such as waiting for your partner to perform an action they have already done.

Within our team, we want to standardise the calls we use, so you always know what to expect when you climb with someone from the NZAT. It is good to reduce the calls you use to a bare minimum and not say unnecessary things as these can add more confusion than clarity. A belayer/climber does not need a running commentary and you don’t want a shouting match at the end of a pitch. It is also a good principle to acknowledge any calls heard, as often the caller does not know if they are heard. This is normally a simple ‘OK’ or ‘Thank You’. This article describes the standard climbing calls and procedures used when climbing. Sticking to these and only these, will help reduce misunderstandings when climbing.

Before you climb:

  1. Establish whether swinging leads or block leading. I would rack differently when seconding and would want to know if I’m leading the next pitch or not.

  2. Establish if simulclimbing is a likely option.

While leading:

Watch Me: Can be good for leader to know their belayer is paying extra attention on a spicy section.

  1. Take: Belayer takes in hard for leader to rest on rope.

  2. There is no need to call for slack. Just pull on rope. (Can be confused with take).

If leader runs out of rope and no belay available:

  1. If ground above belay is straightforward, consider simulclimbing to decent anchor.

  2. If risk of 2nd falling on this section too great, downclimb to better anchor.

While belaying:

  1. Ten meters (warning that close to end of rope)

  2. No rope (no more rope)

  3. Any useful information on route-finding, rope management etc.

When leader finishes pitch:

  1. Leader first creates equalised belay, attaches themselves, then attaches belay plate to belay. (Avoid any delay between pulling up slack and putting 2nd on belay).

  2. Leader calls: ‘Off Belay

  3. Belayer takes belay off, calls: ‘Belay off

  4. Leader: pulls up all slack rope until no more comes, then gives out armfull slack. Then puts 2nd on belay. Calls ‘On Belay‘ then pulls any remaining slack.

  5. Do not call ‘safe’ (see further explanation)

If calls are not heard

  1. If belayer is unsure if ‘Off belay’ is called, he/she remains on belay and feed slack until no more rope, then takes off belay.

  2. ‘On Belay’ call is not required, for as soon as rope goes tight, leader puts seconder on belay. The leader should be prepared to do this with NO DELAY. Ie belay device is setup before pulling rope.


  1. Rope going tight is a signal you’re on belay. Break down belay and start climbing immediately.

  2. Take‘ if too much slack is in system, or they need to sit on rope to remove stuck gear.

  3. ‘Give me rope’ If 2nd needs slack (eg small downclimb, rope around flake)

Single pitch climbing:

Assume lowering unless 100% clear otherwise. When leader reaches anchor they clip hard into anchor, thread rope, call take and then lower. No need to call safe/off belay and belayer remains on belay all the time.


  1. Leader abseils down, builds anchor, attaches to it, bounce tests then calls’ Off rope‘.

  2. 2nd acknowledges with ‘ok’ or ‘Thank you‘ then remove backup and starts abseiling.


Normally, but not always, you are close enough to your partner to communicate verbally. In normal operation, you match pace through the rope and don’t need to say anything. Exceptions are:

  1. If leader has a difficult step, they should call ‘Watch me‘ and seconder ensure there is minimal slack in system, or can use a quick belay

  2. After a difficult step, the leader may place a progress capture device (tibloc, traxion etc) I would call ‘traxion on‘ so the second knows they have that extra security.

  3. Alternatively, the leader may give a quick belay over a step, call ‘On Belay‘ and the second can climb quickly with extra security.

  4. As a second, I may stop to remove gear, and see that the leader no longer has gear between us. I’d call ‘Gear Out‘ so the leader knows and can place protection, or climb with appropriate caution.

  5. The most troublesome situation is if the rope gets stuck while simul-climbing. The leader can’t get slack and thinks the second has stopped, the second thinks the leader has stopped as the rope is not being taken up. If the leader can’t get rope, they need to work out if it is the climber (‘Is that you?‘, ‘Yes, removing stuck gear’ or ‘No, heaps of slack’). Unless the jam is close to the leader, it would normally be the seconds responsibility to climb up to free the jam, normally taking in slack with autobelay system.

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